Backcountry Campsite terminology

 

Terms to Know Before you go

Caretaker

A hard-working, fun-loving character whose concern for the condition of the forests and mountains has led him/her to shun creature comforts and jobs with reasonable pay, to live in a leaky canvas tent away from friends and family for months at a time, working in the mud and with bugs to improve the condition of the trails and campsites. Caretakers educate campers about the most current minimum-impact camping and hiking strategies, help confused hikers find their way or the rest of their group, and bandage up injured hikers and help them out of the woods. Caretakers use axes, pick-mattocks, rock bars and shovels to keep the heavily traveled trails in and around their sites from eroding by maintaining clean drainage, installing rock steps, building bog bridges, and constructing step stones and water bars.

Caretakers pull on heavy rubber gloves and tug containers of human waste out from under the outhouse and spend hours diligently mixing waste with bark chips, shoveling it into a large metal bin to compost. Caretakers regularly turn that compost to keep oxygen levels high enough, then they record the daily temperatures of each batch, spread the cooked batches on sifting screens and haul the final product, bucket by bucket, into the forest. Caretakers help rebuild platforms, pads and shelters; replant saplings from the forest into damaged areas to help with revegetation; hike in supplies for the site; and hike out any trash left behind by careless hikers. Caretakers are physically and mentally tough, but they're friendly and passionate about the work they do to help preserve the backcountry. (Find out about becoming a caretaker yourself through our seasonal job opportunities.)

Campsite

A site with both shelter/lean-to, tent platforms, or pads in designated areas.

Composting Outhouse

A backcountry toilet from which human waste is manually composted by a caretaker. Composting thoroughly breaks down human waste, killing pathogens and parasites and ending with a benign organic material called humus. In traditional pit toilet outhouses a hole in the ground is filled with human waste and then covered and left to decompose — a process that takes decades and raises the possibility of human waste contaminating nearby water sources. The significant cost associated with operating the shelter system lies in the composting operation: infrastructure, caretaker wages, and airlifting hardwood bark chips — the magic ingredient for successful composting. Because the backcountry of the White Mountains is visited by 1.5 million people per year, our sewage management techniques have had to evolve to safely dispose of hundreds of gallons of waste each summer.

Dishwashing Area

A hole filled with rocks, also called a sump, into which dishwater is strained. A colander is provided at caretaker sites for straining dishwater and collecting food scraps that can then be bagged and carried out with the rest of your trash. The purpose of a dishwash area is to concentrate food odors in one area, thereby discouraging animals from exploring tents and packs. The dishwashing area also educates campers about the necessity of packing out food scraps to keep sites clean for other visitors and to prevent animals from becoming accustomed to dining on human food. Soap is not recommended in the woods — use it sparingly, if at all, and never near water sources. Even biodegradable soaps do not break down when they are in solution with water.

Mahoosuc Rover

A rare, wiry, wild-haired human who roams the Mahoosuc Mountains, occasionally moving rocks and digging ditches but most often seen near the toilets of Trident, Gentian, Carlo Col, or Full Goose campsites. The Mahoosuc Rover single-handedly composts all the human waste at these four campsites and conducts regular site maintenance, revegetation, and trail work as needed. The Mahoosuc Rover has no permanent den and is quite elusive — on the rare chance that you cross paths with this character, it is best to offer a sign of appreciation, such as a compliment about the condition of the outhouse, or maybe a granola bar.

Platform

A wooden surface, supported at the corners by rock cairns that provide a durable surface for cooking and tenting. Single platforms measure 8'x10' and can usually accommodate two, two-person tents, if you're creative. Double platforms measure 10'x16' in order to accommodate large groups. Tent platforms minimize impact on the forest floor in high-use areas by concentrating use.

Shelter

Three-sided structure with a wooden floor and a roof, also called a lean-to. Most shelters accommodate between eight and 12 people, but have been known — in dire circumstances — to sleep up to 20. Adirondack-style shelters have a wide-open front and the floor serves as the sleeping surface. Mahoosuc-style shelters have a large open doorway (but no door) and a loft inside which increases the floor's available sleeping surface.

Tent Pad

Hardened dirt surfaces, supported by rock borders that provide a durable surface for cooking and tenting. Tent pads are built in areas where airlifting lumber for platforms is not possible (including designated Wilderness Areas) or does not make economical sense. Pads are also installed in areas that receive lower use. Tent pads minimize impact on the forest floor in high-use areas by concentrating use.

Tentsite

A site with just tent platforms or tent pads in designated areas and no shelter or lean-to.

Water Source

A body of water located in close proximity to your camping site. Regardless of the source remember to boil, filter, or chemically purify before use.

Wilderness Areas

In the White Mountain National Forest there are six federally designated Wilderness Areas: Caribou-Speckled, Great Gulf, Presidential Dry River, Sandwich Range, Pemigewasset, and the Wild River. Wilderness areas are noted on AMC and other maps by a color differentiation. If in doubt, call the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (603-466-2721) or the White Mountain National Forest Wilderness information web site. Special restrictions protect natural resources and preserve the primitive character of these areas:

  • No motorized or mechanical equipment.

  • Hiking or camping group size must be no larger than 10 people.

  • No storing of equipment, personal property, or supplies including geocaching and letter boxing.